Confusing document management and records management is not uncommon—for many, these terms are interchangeable. The reality is that those in the know interpret them as two different things, despite the fact that they share numerous similarities. Let’s take a look at the ways in which they differ, the ways in which they overlap, and what that means for organizations looking to pick one over the other.


What is Document Management?

Document management refers to the ability to find documents efficiently and involves finding ways to create faster file searches and retrieval times, creating paperless workflows, and establishing consistency in document storage. In short, document management involves the day-to-day business of capturing, storing, modifying, and sharing files within a company or organization. It also focuses on:

  • Lowering the chances and occurrences of misfiled documents.
  • Creating faster document searches.
  • Getting faster results for document retrieval.
  • Improving the organization process for existing documents.
  • Improving workflow processes.
  • Finding more efficient ways to organize data and documents within an organization.
  • Decreasing the necessary physical space to store data required by file cabinets, shelves, and boxes.
  • Increasing opportunities for paperless office processes.
  • Providing instant access to documents.


What is Records Management?

Records management involves the compliance and regulatory aspects of document management, including issues like filing records correctly according to specific document retention schedules. Records management establishes policies and standards so organizations can maintain each of their many types of records.

Note that while some documents become records within an organization, not all of them do. Records management generally includes all the functions described above for document management, plus:

  • The identification of what records exist by completing an inventory of records.
  • The application of required retention periods to stored documents.
  • Identifying the owner or owners of records series.
  • Ensuring that a chain of custody exists.
  • Ensuring that an audit trail exists.
  • Assisting in e-discovery issues.
  • The application of legal holds as needed.
  • Managing the disposal and / or destruction of documents as needed.
  • Developing a records policy and procedures.
  • Administering said records policy and procedures.
  • Keeping records safe and secure through their lifecycle.
  • Record archiving.
  • File lifecycle preservation.
  • Automated document retention and decay.


Differences between Records Management and Document Management

Now that we’ve established the basic definitions and uses of both records management and document management, you’re likely wondering what the difference between the two are. The main differences comfortably fit under three umbrella terms: goals, information, and methodology.
Generally, the goal of document management is efficiency. Organizations want to find and approve documents more quickly, they want to reduce the time they spend on manual data entry, and they want to automate specific recurring tasks.

On the flip side, the main goal of records management is compliance. The best records management system will help organizations avoid paying penalties by ensuring compliance with regulators, auditors, and additional governing bodies.
The information handled by document management is what’s known as transient content. For example, invoices that are signed and then sent to the next approver, older drafts that are destroyed in favor of revised ones, or forms that are passing from one submitter to another reviewer.

Records management handles historical content. A variety of drafts, versions, and copies of documents that are still active will be consolidated into only what’s necessary to assure compliance.
Generally speaking, the methodology of document management tends to be content driven. Content is indeed the starting point for every activity related to documents. As a result, document repositories generally keep the needs of general users in mind during organization. For example, how to best find documents via keywords and titles, or how to best keep documents organized by employee or project.

On the other hand, the methodology of records management is context-driven. Managers or records are more concerned with the type of document—whether it’s an insurance record, applications, etc.—than they are about what words are used within the documents themselves. As a result, most activity related to records is focused on retention schedules.

A simple way of thinking of it is this: organizations need documents do to their jobs, but they need records to prove they’ve done their job.


Where They Overlap: Longevity

While document management and records management have differing goals, they do have one in common: business continuity. If an organization has a shortcoming in either records or document management, it could be a step toward the downfall of the entire organization. On the other hand, when both are working properly, the goals of compliance and efficiency are met, and the longevity of the organization is more secure.